Why should it be important that we help our children, ourselves, and those around us, to be independent, confident, self-motivated and self-managing learners?
A conversation I had at the weekend went something like this;
Mum; “I’m really worried about my son’s maths at school, he was doing ok but now seems to be falling behind…every time he gets poor marks, he seems to shrink a bit”
I asked a little more; ‘In what areas of maths is he having trouble?’
Mum; “All areas now, he just seems to have lost some confidence and is giving up a bit, he doesn’t want to put up his hand in the classroom and ask for help…”
This is a situation I hear often. Her son is at risk of not achieving his best-it’s not that he is unable to do the work, it is that his emotional response to a difficult situation is unhelpful and is founded upon often unhelpful ideas we have about ourselves. These ideas can inhibit our best-selves as learners, and disconnect us from our confident and motivated self. We become disorientated.
Add to this sense of disorientation the context within which we live- the phenomenally rapid rates of change across the world; from the intra-biological (witness recent medical advances in personalised treatments for diseases), to the inter-biological, to the impacts of climate change, to the ‘algorithm-isation’ of everything. We know, we see, we feel, we hear and we sense that the pace of change now is fierce.
Add to this the overwhelming amounts of information that we are constantly bombarded each day (e.g. there are 4.2 billion Instagram likes each day!) means that old certainties, that perhaps those in the 50+ age bracket take for granted, are no longer as certain as they used to be.
Jobs that did not exist 10 years ago are appearing to be more and more in demand, jobs such as; solar and wind energy technicians, genetic engineers, blockchain developers, automation engineers. These jobs arise as new technologies are developed as solutions to problems that are only just emerging. What’s more, recent evidence suggests that those growing up now will change jobs many times maybe as much as once every two or so years.
The old securities, are changing…have changed. For good. Rapid change is the new certainty. Adaptability is key. It is becoming even more important to be a good learner.
Our children and the future generations will emerge into this world of shifting landscapes and new uncertainties and they will need to show qualities of character and temperament to survive and thrive.
Research by the American psychologist, Carol Dweck has shown that children, from a very young age, tend to have an idea about what intelligence is-they have their own working definition if you like. This working definition is learnt from others and is one of two, either; ‘intelligence is a fixed amount and everyone has a different amount of it’ or, ‘intelligence is something that you can grow-we can all get cleverer at things’. If someone holds the first definition of intelligence, they are said to have a ‘fixed intelligence mindset’. The second view is they are said to have a ‘growth mindset’.
These two mindsets have a profound influence on how learners approach the complicated and difficult task of learning, and in turn upon their adaptability and their ability to be a responsive and good learner.
For example, if a learner with a ‘fixed intelligence mindset’ meets with a difficulty in their learning and receives feedback that is less than positive, this feedback is taken, by the learner, to be a reflection of the amount intelligence they have. In this case the learner would, in all likelihood, feel negative about themselves and their capacities to learn. They might feel frustration; they might feel as if they ‘are not clever enough’. They might give up- sound familiar?
With the learner who adopts a ‘growth mindset’; they too would undoubtedly feel frustration, but they would also feel that ‘maybe if they tried another way…’ then maybe they could work it out. Above all, they would feel that they could work it out. They would respond, they would adapt.
These two differing mindsets lead to quite profound differences in responses to life’s challenges and both have a real impact on helping our children to become the independent, confident, persistent, self-motivated and self-managing learners that will be so necessary to thrive in the 21st Century.
So, what can we do to promote a growth mindset for our children and learners of all ages?
My Top Tips Would Be:
- Keep talking about how brains are like muscles; they get stronger. The more we do something the stronger our brains become and the better we get at it!
- Pay attention to effort as opposed to results; praise effort, praise them trying a different way.
- Catch them being persistent. Give your child positive labels-say to them ‘I can see you’re not quitting-you’re not a quitter!’
- Encourage a healthy attitude to failure and challenge; ask; ‘what can you learn?’ ‘what can you do differently next time?’
- Understand and use the power of the word ‘yet’; “I am learning to play the piano and can’t play a tune on it…yet!’ When your child says they can’t do something, add ‘yet’ to their sentence to liberate them in the direction of positivity and learning.
- Show them that they have worth that is intrinsic and beyond the outcomes of what it is they are doing.
- Teach them that failure is ok and is part of learning.
Most importantly of all be the role model for them in all of the above- we learn from example!